National Wildfire Coordinating Group

Swiftwater Rescue Team Leader, SWFL

Position Category: 
All-Hazard Positions
Position Code: 
Functional Area: 
AD Class: 


The purpose of this position is to act as a Swiftwater Rescue Leader and emergency responder during the event of a water based search, rescue or recovery incident.


  • Develops and implements the water based search, rescue and recovery component of the Incident Action Plan.
  • Supervise, leads, and performs swiftwater/whitewater based search, rescue and recovery operations from shore and in water.  Directs the search of outdoor environments or other locations indicated in the Incident Action Plan using appropriate search equipment and techniques which may include technical rope rescue, hasty searches, grid searching for evidence or clues, aerial searches, helicopter operations, etc.
  • Provides emergency medical treatment with the scope of certification and training.
  • Documents locations of alerts, clues and follow-up tasks.  Cooperates with and assists other search and rescue resources.  Ensures adherence to all safety procedures.
  • Accounts for, and ensures the proper utilization of all issued SAR equipment.
  • Presents briefings, prepares situation reports and updates mission objectives and status changes.  Develops and completes all incident tactical objectives and reports.  Maintains accurate records, and completes all after-action requirements.  Completes operational period unit logs.
  • Provides input at the field level concerning development of new technologies, equipment, tactics and skills as they pertain to the swiftwater rescue component.
  • Performs additional tasks or duties as assigned during a mission.

Position Knowledge and/or Requirements

  • Operational knowledge of the Incident Command System (ICS), the development and use of integrated action planning concepts and processes.
  • Operational knowledge of search, rescue and recovery systems, strategy and tactics as it pertains to various disaster response environments.
  • Advanced knowledge of water based technical search, rescue, and recovery operations such as would be acquired through completion of an approved National Park Service Swiftwater Rescue course, and documented experience in swiftwater rescue operations.
  • Understanding of water dynamics and characteristics, including hydraulics, hazards, water crossings, and obstacles.
  • Expert knowledge of the ability to construct, rig, and operate vertical and horizontal rigging systems, technical raise and lower systems, and mechanical advantage systems.
  • Ability to manage rope as it moves through a system, manage vertically and horizontal suspended litters, and rig advanced anchor systems.
  • Ability to lead, perform and control in-water contact rescues including “Live Bait” Rescue (rescue swimmer or in-water contact rescue).
  • Ability to operate, handle, and maintain a variety of watercraft used in rescue operations.
  • Ability to provide emergency medical treatment as a first responder.
  • Advanced knowledge of general search strategy and tactics, including map, compass, and GPS techniques.  Good understanding of technical/electronic search device capabilities, limitations and procedures.
  • Ability to accurately sketch a search area, apply and interpret search area marking techniques for perimeters, alert areas, hazards, etc., and to recognize and identify victim location clues.
  • Knowledge of rescue specialist tools and abilities, and awareness of the hazards associated with the various search environments.
  • Knowledge of supervisory practices and principles sufficient to provide leadership, foster open communication and teamwork, provide work direction, and evaluate the performance of swiftwater rescue team members.
  • Knowledge of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and its appropriate use in search, rescue, and recovery operations.

Personal Contacts

Personal contacts are with local agency search and rescue team personnel, and/or incident management team personnel during the duration of the incident.  Additional contacts may be made with media operations, family members, special interest groups, and others interested and assisting with the incident.

Purpose of Contacts

The purpose of contacts is to present briefings and orders, direct the work of others, as well as to relay incident information to and from the incident management team and other team members, and to provide general and specific information and assistance.

Physical Demands

Work routinely involves physically rigorous assignments and strenuous activity.  Incumbent must maintain excellent physical condition to carry out responsibilities, including the ability to hike and climb in mountainous and desert terrain, to perform lengthy search, rescue and recovery missions, to perform assignments in remote areas of steep, hazardous terrain, accessible only by foot, and in all weather conditions, as well as in swiftwater environments.  These routine and emergency situations often require clear reasoning and decisive action under conditions of extreme mental and physical stress.

Work Environment

Work environment is predominately outdoors in all types of terrain conditions, night or day, including inclement weather, and for prolonged periods of time.  Travel to incident locations may be by foot, vehicle, aircraft, or boat.  The incumbent is subject to cold, hot, windy, wet, or snowy conditions for several days at a time.


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